Anticipation for the upcoming seventh episode in the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens, is quickly becoming a ubiquitous part of daily life in the few short months leading up to the film’s theatrical release. It’s been mere days since Force Friday, wherein a deluge of tie-in merchandise flooded store shelves, with eager collectors lining up before midnight to snag Lego sets, Black Series figures, plastic lightsabers, and remote controlled droids. I’ve passed on all of the toys thus far, partially to avoid spoilers, but more so because I’m not about to fall in love with characters from a movie I’ve yet to see, the quality of which remains unknown. Besides, Star Wars for me has for the most part been less about the movies and main characters and more about the world and its denizens. I’ll take BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic or Ostrander and Duursema’s Legacy over The Empire Strikes Back any day. It’s for that reason my most anticipated tie-in to The Force Awakens has been Marvel’sShattered Empire limited series.
When Journey to the Force Awakens – Shattered Empire was first announced, it held the promise of being among the first entries of the new canon (being beaten out by the novel “Aftermath” by only a few days) set subsequent to the events of Return of the Jedi. However, the first half or more is actually concurrent with the events of the film’s climax, and the first issue never progresses further than the day after. Shattered Empire (at least it seems from the first issue) is far less a prologue to The Force Awakens and really an epilogue to Episode VI. Few of its revelations thus far are grandiose; no reader will be shocked to learn Alliance fighters almost fired upon the Lambda-class shuttle Luke had commandeered from the second Death Star, or that General Solo’s forces had continuing engagements with Imperial forces still garrisoned on the forest moon after the main battle was won.
Greg Rucka seems less concerned with forward plot development and more so with establishing the protagonists of the series, A-Wing pilot Shara Bey and her husband, Lt. Kes Dameron (presumably the parents of Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron, wherein the connection to Episode VII is established). Several characters from the original trilogy make cameos; Disney/Marvel sadly still seems shy about creating new stories absent of these icons, but their presence here feels organic and unforced, with Lando Calrissian absolutely stealing the scene on one page. Unfortunately, neither Shara or Kes seem destined to be the next Quinlan Vos or HK-47; too little of whatever personality they might possess shines through for readers to establish a meaningful connection or identification with these characters.
Pencil work is handled by Rucka’s prior collaborator on his Punisher run, Marco Checchetto. Though, anecdotally speaking, I rarely hear his name mentioned in the same breath as Jim Lee and Sean Murphy and J.H. Williams as one of the best artists in the industry, his work speaks for itself as to why he’s earned a place in that top tier. His art has shown constant improvement from Punisher through Avengers World, with Shatter Empire easily his best to date. Every panel on every page is superior in quality to any from Return of the Jedi (absent of those featuring a gold bikini-clad slave Leia). Every page is brimming with creative panel layouts, dynamic angles, expressive characters, detailed backgrounds, and smartly-integrated effects. Cassaday and Immonen have both done excellent work on Marvel’s main Star Wars title, but Checchetto is the first real challenger to Jan Duursema’s claim to being the definitive Star Wars artist in comics. If he continues to illustrate the universe past this mini-series, it’s not unfathomable to think of one day hearing his name alongside the likes of Ralph McQuarrie and Drew Struzan.
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